The power politics of (under-) funding the arts

Image appears on

Image appears on

I have had this question bubbling around in my head for weeks (months, years). Why do Australian governments fund the arts so poorly?

It’s not an economically rational decision. There is ample evidence of the value of the arts to the economy. Politicians are intelligent and educated people, and can understand the concept of investment in an industry at certain nodes of influence having a catalytic effect, leading to much greater returns.

Cuts to the arts are often post-rationalised as an economic decision. In much the same way as I can rationalise buying yet another black cardigan (I’ll always use it, it goes with everything), the government uses economic reasons to rationalise selling pretty much anything. 20% cuts to higher education – ‘hard economic decisions’; freezing the Medicare payment schedule – ‘hard economic decisions; cuts to CSIRO, the ABC, and pretty much every other public institution which Australian people still actually have some faith in and respect for – ditto, ditto, ditto.

‘Hard economic decisions’ sounds paternal, responsible, vaguely Calvinistic, appealing to our epigenetic belief that pain is noble and necessary for the greater good. In reality of course, economic rationalism is just a marketing strategy for conservative government agendas. There is literally no economic sense in cutting the arts. There is even less economic sense in cutting something as essential as higher education or under-funding schools (the latter is increasing in the 2016 budget, but not nearly enough to cover the cost of quality education that was derived from actual research and evidence).

How do you argue with irrational people?

There are a few, barely visible factors which I think it might be useful to observe and unpack, which might help us to come to some sort of answer to this question.

  1. The government of Australia has a conservative, free market agenda.
  2. Arts, along with social service sectors, are viewed through a gendered lens.
  3. The end of democracy is nigh.

The government of Australia has a conservative, free market agenda

This is not exactly a state secret I am revealing here. But it is worth bearing this in mind. A free market, to some, means total laissez faire capitalism (think pre-GFC America) and to others (think Keynes, the economist darling of the arts) a market regulated to protect competition for the benefit of ‘consumers.’

At the moment in Australia we are finding out just what a free market means to our newest Prime Minister. So far, it seems to mean, ‘This government is not paying for anything that someone else will eventually cough up for.’

It seems sensible until you realise what it means in practice. For example, you can count on parents to work their fingers to the bone to send their children to university, even if the fees become astronomically high. When you love someone, that’s what you do. In the process, the parents may sacrifice their health and housing security to do so; and ultimately there will probably end up being far fewer Australian students at university from less affluent backgrounds.

The government can also count on artists practising their art despite not being funded to do so. When you love something, that’s what you do. Of course, there will be far fewer artists making art, and far fewer artists from less affluent backgrounds. But so what? It’s still taking place, right?

And then there is the argument – why don’t philanthropists pay for the art?

The problem with philanthropy is that it is not a meritocracy, as public funding is (meant to be). Philanthropists can donate to whatever they like, and so they should – but greater reliance on this purse means a greater concentration of funding in the hands of artists who can access power. It is the same problem as raising fees in higher education – a meritocratic system which enabled people like me and my siblings to escape poverty and ‘economically participate’ is less and less accessible to the scrappers, the underdogs, the people on the outside looking in.

wish things worked the way that the free market philosophers believe they do. I wish they did.

But they don’t. Free market politicians in this day and age are as dangerously innocent of reality and as frighteningly fanatic as communists in agrarian Russia, 1917. Just look at America to see how well free market economics works out for the little guy.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Foucault was on to something. Politicians use their power to entrench the status quo for themselves and the class they identify with. Cuts to education, freezes to Medicare, and cuts to the small-to-medium arts sector are all manifestations of this primitive act. They might even believe in it as they do it. Missionary zeal is never not zealous.

That’s why you have to elect a government which identifies with the class of the majority of people. With the working and middle-class, who like choice and enterprise but also like education and health care. Who like sport but also want their kids to be able to go to the library or the gallery or learn an instrument at school, public school.

I don’t think there is a political party in Australia which currently identifies with the class of the majority of people. I think the current government markets itself well in an aspirational sense – you know, the classic ‘if you buy this car you’ll get the beautiful girl’ – ‘if you vote for me you’ll be well off and have good-looking white friends who accept you.’ It has convinced people it represents who they want to become, as opposed to who they are. By comparison, I have no idea who the ALP represents. The ALP seems to have been experiencing the kind of identity crisis reminiscent of my teenage years (patched overalls, bandannas and brand name sunglasses. I was young. The ALP has no such excuse).

Arts, along with social service sectors, are viewed through a gendered lens

The other point I want to make is that the arts are viewed through a gendered lens, and whenever your industry or sector is viewed through the G-lens, you are under-valued. Social service sectors associated with the feminine virtues – childcare, social work, nursing, teaching – are amongst our poorest paid professions. Within sectors there are gendered hierarchies – criminal law or corporate law vs community law centres; brain surgeons vs paediatric surgeons; the big arts companies, associated with power and old money and status, vs the rest of the arts. Then of course there are gendered hierarchies within hierarchies – school principals and CEOs of social service companies – still mostly blokes, despite the majority of their workforce being women; heads of major arts companies still mostly men.

My husband gives me hope, noting that sectors like banking and finance will be disrupted via technology over the next decade or so, but it will be much harder to disrupt the social services sectors, in which humans will be ‘much harder to disrupt.’

I think arts are seen through the G-lens. This is because it is not seen as a ‘productive’ sector (even though we know it actually is – but like much of feminine-gendered work, the outcomes seem indirect or invisible to the gendered eye).

Because of the G-lens, arts work is not viewed as ‘real’ (i.e. men’s) work by people outside the arts. Consequently arts is stuck with a bad image as the ‘pretend’ work of ‘people who’ve never known a day’s real work.’ As soon as you say ‘I work in the arts,’ people roll their eyes. It’s like you just said, ‘my biweekly mani-pedi in Toorak.’ Because the ‘arts’ are seen as a nice to have, as something fun, as something you might do because you love it but not for the money, then you are immediately identified as someone who is either a ‘bludger’ on the tax payer (i.e their) coin, or a member of the moneyed class. In reality, most of the arts sector is impoverished and many are attempting to speak truth to power and other culturally necessary acts of resistance.

The other thing about gendered sectors is that the work they do and the value they create makes positivists like free market believers uncomfortable. The exchange involved in arts is about people, relationships, connection and spark. It is an energy transfer and by nature its impact is largely unseen. Arts experiences are gifts and cannot be made more efficient or productive. The value of an arts experience is like the value you derive from a teacher who actually cares about you, or a counsellor who genuinely responds to where you are at right now. It saves you. It changes your life. Authentic connection is so hard to come by in this free market age, where everything has a price and everything can be made more cost-effective (I was just reading that funding cuts will see callers to mental health helplines asked automated questions so they can be directed to the appropriate mental health area. This is an attempt to streamline helplines rather than fund specialist helplines. Imagine calling a helpline and getting asked to dial 1 for suicidal ideation, 2 for loneliness, 3 for eating disorders…? You don’t have to be that imaginative to see that helpline might not be very helpful). But in this era, the ineffable is dubious.

The end of democracy is nigh (well not entirely, but come on, got your attention)

Since the late 1990s, we have seen a contempt for the ethics and norms of public service arise in the corridors of power. I don’t mean everyone in parliament – there are lots of good people working for their electorates. But I think that there is a clique of political types who learned under Howard’s tutelage (SievX, children overboard, ‘I was not informed’) just how much room there really was to manoeuvre before you actually broke the law.

In the arts, this was brought home in 2015 when the Australia Council unceremoniously lost a huge chunk of its funding. I and others were speechless at the sheer audacity of such an act, flouting long-valued conventions of arms-length funding and the norms of policy-making in consultation with the sector and based on evidence.

It’s not so much the end of democracy I am talking about here, as the end of the concept of public service. 2015 highlighted for me that there is, amongst some decision-makers, a lack of respect for the norms of public service – evidence-based policy making, careful consideration of the public interest, transparency and accountability of ministerial funding decisions….It’s seems as though there are some decision-makers who hold us, the people they are supposed to serve, in contempt. These decision-makers behave like a passive aggressive friend who calls you at 6.00 am on a long weekend to allegedly wish you a happy birthday (you know who you are). How do you call them on it? It’s not illegal. But it’s clearly not right.



Something pernicious is afoot. It’s not a conspiracy; except that it is.

As many of you will know, I research for a living. I spend many of my waking hours talking to people and then thinking about what they said, what it tells me about their views of themselves and the world, and what that might mean for my clients.

In my early “career,” I worked as a policy adviser in the Office of the Status of Women (another Whitlam legacy, already dismantled). So the term “structural discrimination” is not unknown to me.

So why has it taken me months, possibly years, to remember those two words and apply them to some of the equity issues I see arising in the social research I do?

Naturally my ageing brain should take most of the blame: those two words have probably been thoroughly buried under mounds of appointments I have missed and kindy costume days I have failed to remember (luckily, my daughter dresses as if every day is a dress up day).

But you know, for fun, I like to read about the history of neoliberalism (I don’t get out a great deal). I enjoy big words. I like abstractions. Give me a pithy phrase to explain why it is so hard for minorities or women to take advantage of opportunities, and I will use it ten times in the next ten minutes.

So why did it take me so long to remember that unintentional barriers to government services, employment, and justice are not just oversights by well-meaning people; they are actual, real instances of “structural discrimination”?

Here is my theory.

I could not remember those two words, “structural discrimination,” because we don’t talk about discrimination at all any more. On the rare occasion that one of the Human Rights Commissioners is on the evening news, just seeing the word “Discrimination” in their job title makes me sub-consciously cringe.

Implying that one social group could dominate another, is to contradict the fundamental rhetoric of neoliberalism: that everyone can make it on their own merits, and if they don’t it is their own fault. Structural discrimination does not happen; people simply fail to sort themselves out.

The word discrimination, like feminism, has fallen out of common usage as the neoliberal agenda has gained ground. (An interesting aside about neoliberalism: despite the rhetoric that greater labour market flexibility will lead to greater prosperity, in no single country has this been found to be true for the common man or woman. By contrast, corporate wealth has most definitely increased. See? I did read the first few chapters of Piketty).

People don’t want to feel like victims, which is fair enough. But it denies a simple truth: sometimes, we are.

Of course, you can turn yourself from a victim into a fighter pretty bloody fast. But that does not change the fact that bad shit happens to good people. Sometimes it is unavoidable: a car crash, a cyclone. When it is the result of discrimination, it is totally avoidable: a government service offered only in English; a continuously renewed contract which runs out just before you (publicly) announce you are pregnant.

But you can’t avoid it if you don’t name it.

“It” is discrimination. “It” is accepting that you cannot always win on your own merits. Sometimes the cards are stacked against you, and you need someone to change the deck

It helps to name things for what they are. That way organisations, politicians, and well-meaning people who may simply not have thought about it before, are confronted with the consequences of their in/actions.

So come on, friends. Let’s do some naming.

1. The Gang of Breastfeeding Nazis Calling Themselves Community Health Workers

I find it interesting that the last 15 years have seen the decision not to breastfeed equated practically with child abuse. There are some (actually fairly minor) health benefits proven to be associated with breastfeeding (See “Is Breast Best?” for a great summary). But what about the economic, psychological and societal benefits of having women back in the workforce if that is where they want/need to be? Something is going on here. When government-supported services for new mothers push you towards a choice, on slim evidence that it is actually worth stopping your career for, then I think you have to question what is happening. I blame no one. I have not done the research. But I question it. I certainly question it.

2. Career Opportunities Which Require You to be Single and Childless

Never overtly, and often not even intentionally. But if an opportunity has no flexibility about working near or from home, when the work would lend itself to it; if an opportunity means you lose your childcare, or you cannot do the childcare pick up or take care of your ageing relatives for extended periods because you have to be away; then the providers of the opportunity may be structurally discriminating against you. Even if they don’t mean to do it. Even if they would be horrified to hear those words applied to them.

3. A Tertiary Education System With Uncapped Fees

Since Whitlam’s passing, we have all been keenly mourning Australian society as we knew it. Good-bye, meritocracy; hello uncapped fees. This will structurally discriminate against poor people and retain power in the hands of a few.

4. A Petrol Excise That Disproportionately Discriminates Against Poor People

That was a classic, wasn’t it? Joe Hockey trying to explain that rich people would be more affected by a petrol tax, because they had more cars; as if he had never heard the concept of proportion. The Treasurer of the country.

5. Negative Gearing

Housing prices and rental prices will always be too high for many because of a tax system structured to discriminate in favour of the middle class and against those trying to get in.

I could go on. But over to you. Name it.

The role of art in a post-religious world

The first time I tried, and failed, to remove myself from God, I was 10 years old. I lay on the carpet, playing with the dust motes in a shaft of light which came in through a sneaky gap I had made between the heavy, dark pink drapes my mother kept closed all year around. i wondered if they were atoms; if I was seeing the smallest building blocks of matter. I dared myself. There is no God. You don’t believe in God! The world tipped sideways (I rolled on to my back and pushed myself up). It was the scariest thing I had ever thought, and I had not left the living room.

My next crisis of faith was when a documentary came out about the Dead Sea Scrolls. I was 11, just shy of my Confirmation, which is a Catholic event where you, as an adult, confirm the faith that was first confirmed on your behalf when you were a baby, your godparents speaking for you.

At your Confirmation, the bishop asks you, “Do you reject Satan?” And you say, “I do.” They really ask you that, in front of the parish. You stand up in your white dress with a red sash across your chest, representing the Holy Spirit, and you say that you reject Satan and turn faithfully to the gospel. You will have no gods but God. You believe in Jesus Christ our saviour. “I do.” “I do.” “I do.”

On the day of my Confirmation, I first encountered the dilemma of hedging your bets. I wasn’t sure about God, ever since that documentary (it had been on Channel Seven, which should have been enough to discredit it, as we only watched the Channel Nine News). My parents sent me to bed before I could see it, but I had seen the ads, I had heard the introductory statements. “Was the face of Christ really imprinted on the Shroud of Turin? (Yes, that is a real thing, not something from a Tolkien novel. Where do you think fantasy authors get their ideas?) “Jesus spoke Aramaic.” “These Scrolls reveal the shocking truth, buried for hundreds of years, about the man we know as Jesus.”

None of this should be especially confronting. Yes, Jesus was a Jew, and he spoke the local dialect. But – hidden scrolls! A secret language! What did they reveal?

I knew what they revealed. Jesus was not God. Jesus was just a man. I went to bed, scared.

On my Confirmation, I could feel the lie on my tongue, a physical presence. If there is no God, I reasoned with myself, then I am not going to go to hell for this. I did not want to disappoint my family (Allison), and I did not want to be embarrassed by refusing the bishop’s blessing. Things were a bit muddled – I saw myself, just like a Christian hero, refusing to proclaim my faith, prepared to be ashamed publicly for it. i wasn’t an idiot. I knew I had it the wrong way around – you can’t be a Christian hero if you don’t believe in Christ.

But this is what it is like, when you become post-religious. You still have all the trappings; the inner quest, the need, the longing for closeness to the divine love, the love which encompasses and frees.

Frankly, I had never felt that love. I was 12 years old. I had no idea what love like that would feel like. I tried to imagine it, there on my knees, eyes shut tight. I felt it as a warmth, a smile in my direction from a consciousness as all-enveloping as night time

I lay in bed in the room I shared with Allison. I thought about eternity. It made no sense, unless it was actually about right here, right now in this very moment, that eternity was possible. And eternity would be like ecstatic fusion with Jesus. It could happen at any moment, that was the main thing. And hell? If God is love, I surmised, then hell would be spending eternity – a forever, timeless moment – feeling how you had isolated yourself from love viagra naturel.

You can work things out for yourself, even when you are 12 years old. I am pretty sure I figured out the meaning of life one night, as I lay in half sleep. But I was too comfortable to write it down and by morning, it was gone.

Later, in my teens, I returned to God with a vengeance which I wreaked upon myself as punishment for all of that disbelief. While other ninth graders wrote Led Zeppelin and Metallica in heavy black Nikko on their canvas backpacks, I wrote “Life is God” on the outside flap, where everyone could see it, and “Individuality” on the inside, so long I had to squish the “ity” together at the very end. I was a missionary, just like the boys smuggling bibles into communist China: Springwood High was my China.

One day, as I waited outside the library with my friends, three twelfth grade boys found my bag and saw the slogan. They pulled it down and kicked it around on the ground, laughing. I looked straight ahead. My friends, nervously grinning, looked at me. After the boys left, we did not talk about it. Even now, when I do not believe in God, when I have developed a certain fondness for my young, evangelical self, I have never forgiven myself this sin.

Art in a post-religious world. Art in my post-religious world. Art is all I have left. It is the last remaining passage into mystery; the only breath left uncounted. When I hear a piece of music which touches me, I go beyond my emotions and my personal pathos, and I head out into the love that god was meant to be; that all-encompassing pain of knowing you are everyone’s mother, that every single bogan and arsehole in the world is just like you.

As I have said before on this blog, the art I am most familiar with is creative writing. When I read a book that I feel grateful for, it is because the writer has connected me through themselves to the world, but without creating a physical presence in my life, a presence which would demand and require. Instead, the writer lets me be. It is always a surprise, which adds to the gratitude. If you expected it, you would be disappointed.

When else do we get a sense of connection so deep that it transcends our individual selves? Churches are peaceful places. But they only create a sense of un-belonging for me now; a quaint reminder of something I will never have again. In short, they hurt to be inside.

Art (not all art, but some art, the stuff which you recognise as a gift) on the other hand, is not there for me, it is there for everyone. It is where the individual and the group meet, the ultimate fusion of the human condition.

I think that God is the result of society’s need for cohesion in the face of bigger enemies. She has an actual place in our brains, which scientists sweetly call the God-spot, an evolutionary result of needing to balance the survival of the group with the survival of the self. Humans’ two greatest assets, the key to our dominance – our reasonably well-timed selfishness and selflessness. The group and the individual, always in tension with each other.

Now, as religions fade and politics is a sham of self-interested groups, as public spaces become advertising arenas, art unbounded is so very, very necessary. The things we need to pull the pendulum back to the group: community gardens, where we can play out our natural animosity and find our collaborative pecking order. Libraries, where we can feel glad we pay our taxes. Parks, where we can sit with strangers and not feel the need to kill each other. And the excess; the unnecessary; the stuff that makes us laugh and delight. Art. Places where we are safe from the self (our own or other people’s) are shrinking. We need to breathe air into our souls that we didn’t pay for. We need the gift of art to be preserved.








Sleeping alone

I sleep alone. I am beautifully, deeply, very married to a man who doesn’t take it personally. I tell people that it is because he is a snorer and I am a light sleeper, both of which is true. But as we all know, there can be more than one truth which relates to an event, either causally or by correlation.

(I never lie. I prefer to call it “summarising.”)

There was one time I remember when I slept with another person. It was 20 years ago and it lasted more than one hour, less than three. It was so completely unexpected – that is not the sort of thing I do. I was the person who could not casually allow a girl or boy friend to crash on the other side of my double bed when I was at uni and everyone sought to be as casual as possible about everything, even big things. (I lacked perspective). I would let them in to my bed, determined to be relaxed, then lie, stiff, alert; for what? A move towards intimacy if it was a boy friend; a call on my duties as hostess if it was a girl.

I don’t remember falling asleep, of course. I remember waking up. I looked up at the ceiling of Frankfurt airport. My friend sat peacefully, my head on her lap, looking around, not in any particular hurry. Multiple miracles: that she was still here, when I had tearfully farewelled her only hours ago, she for the US, me for Australia, our year of desperation (student exchange) over. The things I felt: total and deep peace. I was so completely and surprisingly safe. Wonder: I was completely and surprisingly safe, asleep in the most vulnerable position I could imagine – asleep, in a public place, at the end of happiness, at the beginning of 48 hours flying “home.”

I thought I would curse myself for wasting my last hours with my friend asleep. But I have never regretted it. This miracle. This gift. So many things have faded, but this has not. The sheer, pure wonder and the feeling of waking up, unharmed against all expectation.

I wonder at people who can sleep next to the person they love, every night. I wonder if they wake feeling such deep nourishment every day. I wonder about what I am missing.

I think I should perhaps try again. But I tell myself, and it is true, causally, correlatively, there is never a good time in our busy lives to conduct an experiment which involves losing nights of sleep.

My husband now has a snoring machine, and I have tailor made ear plugs from a cheery audiologist who wished me good luck. Last time we travelled, I slept in the same room and it was ok. It was OK. There was an alertness, but still.

I try not to think about this in terms of progress. And I try not to think about what buried bones make me so alert in my sleep. Maybe nothing. Maybe something. I try not to think.

It was so unexpected: waking, seeing the ceiling, then realising what I had just done. Wonder at myself. Love for her. I only saw her once again in my life. I googled her, but there is no trace. I do not think I will ever see her again.

It was the result of a strange combination of utter exhaustion and bonus time. A gift. Extra, spent in a miracle. Sleep like that is pure luxury: in broad daylight, in public, with someone you may never see again and love desperately because of it. There is nothing of need or functionality about it. It is pure excess, which is why it stays with me, year after year, as close as I have to an experience of mystery, of total surrender, of encompassing peace. Of god.







The black dog

I have always wanted a pet. Ever since my sister brought home Fitzy, the yappy little mongrel, I thought, yes. Finally, we are going to be normal.

But Fitzy was only ever on loan. We were looking after him while my sister arranged to buy a dog which would be an investment. It was called a Shitsu, and she got two of them. I blame the boyfriend.

I remember my dad, throwing Fitzy a tennis ball, and Allison standing back while I circled around the bouncing little bleeder, saying, Here Fitzy! Here! because that is what you say to dogs. Dad was smiling. Mum was inside the house. Things like that don’t last forever.

My depression is not a black dog. Winston Churchill used to call his that. Mine is more of a shadow, an unpleasant odour, something that clogs the pores and the nostrils.

My depression is like this: a weight on my chest, which would move, damn it, if only I had the energy to get up.

It is a vapour, that circles my body and my mind; the hint that life is bleak, that there is no point, that it would be better to just, lie down.

The reason for these gas and fluid analogies: my depression has never been a solid thing, no panting, doleful mutt. It has always been like this: a Geist, a trickster, uncannily able to get into every crack and crevice without saying a goddamn word or opening a goddamn door.

My depression makes me tired.

Here are the things that lift the cloud. I have friends who love me. I have a husband and a daughter who keep me in this world, tethered, so I can’t sink. I have intelligence, and work, and I can exercise and release the good chemicals.

I don’t want to overstate it. But I don’t want to understate it, either.

We can’t have a dog because of allergies. I don’t think it would solve the problem entirely, anyway.

But when I turn my eyes directly on him, my shadowman, he flickers, a wisp shimmering in the headlights. I name him, Ged-like, and he flees for the corners of my ceiling. There he hovers, and lurks, while I get on with living. I can do this, and he says nothing. I can do reality. Watch me burn.





To dye or not to dye

My hair is going white. It is skipping grey and going straight to wise old grandmother, and part of me is quite OK with this.

Most of me however, is not.

I want to be a bastion of feminism. But as my friend Jules put it, at some point when a woman stops dying her hair, she just looks un-groomed. It is sad but it is true – in a job where meetings are required and first impressions are part of the deal, grey roots make you look unprofessional.

Will not dyeing my hair help to change this preconception? Can I make a difference?

I am thinking of Susan Sontagging my hair – getting some white foils to let the greying process happen a little more gracefully.

But that is just stupid. it is more work than dyeing it all black.

And there is this: I saw my hair yesterday in the bright, radiant light of a Sydney day – you know, the kind of day where even black objects seem to reflect and increase the sun. My mirror at home is lit tastefully and forgivingly. This was not.

I saw my hair – dry, straggly, and with white bits popping out in unbecoming wires. This on a day where I was off to a meeting and so had ‘done’ my hair. I saw my face too – something else I try to spend not much time reviewing – and saw the telltale lack of elasticity that signals ageing. For someone who has always been young by default of being short and the youngest in the family, I was not prepared for this. I knew I was older – I welcomed it and I feared it, not because being old is scary but being mortal is. But I had not really seen it.

Vanity of vanities: I care about looking better.

But there is the other thing – I want to know I am getting old. I want to see the hair go grey and the skin thin and see that yes, I am getting closer to my estimated time of departure. I don’t want it to be a shock. I don’t want death to be a shock.

I will get my hair cut this week, but as for dyeing – well, I think I will wait a bit longer. Maybe my hair will cooperate and grow its own white slices. If not, well, with the passage of time I may just not care so much anyway. My confidence in my abilities and my person may start to outweigh my fear of making people think of me as a greying relic of the hippy days, back when green was the new black.

I think I will give my head an olive branch: a conditioning treatment to soften the dryness. White hairs, you have won a temporary respite; but springing from my head like crackling pieces of albino hay? Those days are numbered.

A birthday present for Allison

As many of you probably already know, I have a disabled sister. She is my closest sister in age and heart.

To put it simply, she has been left to rot in a Qld aged care home by the Qld Disability Department. She turns all of 39 next week.

Do you know what would be a most excellent birthday present? If we could all lobby the Qld government to get her into disability accommodation NOW.

Madonna King will be telling Allison’s story in her column in tomorrow (Saturday)’s Courier Mail.

Let’s try and get as many people as possible to:

In your emails, please urge the Qld government to:

– give Allison proper disability accommodation NOW
– get young people OUT of aged care homes

Thanks everyone!

BELOW is the letter I sent to Madonna which she will be using in her column. Please feel free to reproduce.

Hi Madonna

I am getting in touch on behalf of my mother, Mary Bailey, who lives in Shailer Park, about the Qld government’s terrible neglect of my disabled sister, Allison.

I urge you to please use your journalistic skills to bring our politicians to account for their false promises of care for young people. The government has a commitment that young people will not be left in aged care homes – yet here is my sister, left to slowly fade away when she could be having quality of life in a disabled person’s home.

I will tell you a little about my sister Allison. She is 38 years old. She likes playing Scrabble and is known as the “UNO Queen” in our family. She is deeply religious, and has long inspired all who meet her with her fortitude and grace.

More than anything, she likes to care for others. She worries that our mother, now 77 years of age, doesn’t take her blood pressure tablets. She frets and tells me to stay warm if I have a cold. She loves her nieces and nephews, and kisses the photos of the babies she has pinned to the wall by her bed.

Last year, my mother finally accepted reality: she could no longer care for Allison. My mother, a War Widow, is too old and frail, and my sister’s needs grew too much for her.

For many years, we had applied to the Queensland government for an adult lifestyle package to help Allison stay socially connected, and contribute to the community as she so dearly loves to do, having spent many years volunteering in childcare and hospitals.

We were always refused.

Last year, when things got too much, Allison was placed in temporary care to wait for a place with Disability Services. In the first week, she suffered a major setback. She lost the ability to swallow and speak.

And so the Queensland government’s systemic neglect began. The government has forgotten her, conveniently shifting her care burden to the Commonwealth, first in St Vincents and now in Yurana aged care facility.

Whilst there, her condition, rather than improving, has slowly deteriorated. Before going into care, she could still walk to the bathroom and around the house. Now she can barely keep herself upright in a wheelchair, so long has she been left in bed by the “carers”.

An aged care home is perfectly good if you are old and about to die. Allison is neither of these things.
She is left in her room, or in front of the TV, with demented residents. There is no stimulation for her; no social interaction, no musical play, no activities for a young person like Allison.

This is simply wrong. We have made formal complaints and contacted the Department and Minister, to no avail.

Allison belongs in a disability support model, one which treats her as the young person she is, with quality of life to be cultivated rather than quietly forgotten.

Even so, Allison still smiles. She can still say, “Mum,” and tries to communicate with her hands and face. She plays UNO and Scrabble, and does her puzzles. She listens to music. When alone, for the many hour of the day and night that my mother or one of us cannot be there, she prays.

Allison is disabled, but there are people who love her and people she loves. She belongs in the disability system, with support for her to live as good a life as she can.

Thank you for reading. I dearly hope you can bring the situation of thousands of disabled young people like Allison, left in aged care homes, to the attention of the public and the government.

Yours sincerely,

Jackie Bailey

A room of one’s own

I have a new study. It is not large – but not that small either. For example, it fits me, my desk, and my books (my lovely, real paper books) neatly, and with room to swing around in my chair. I had hopes of a meditation corner, but that might become a meditation cushion, which can be squirrelled away next to my future shelves.

I have hopes of whiteness, cleanliness (in the sense of: blank spaces, open palates, free movement, excitingly understated decor). I have hopes of cosiness, familiar clutter – my papers where I left them, not too long ago so as to seem insistent; my desk top clear of all things but what I need for just today. I have tucked my filing cabinet out of line of sight so I do not feel I have to stand upon two headlands at once.

Importantly: everything placed just where I put it. Everything that speaks to me. Everything that fills a certain little cup in my gut I had no idea was empty: full of a smiling contentment, a snuggly, cat-like cushionness, which says: this is my place. Close the door (there is no door yet, but soon, soon!) Leave it all behind; all that which you didn’t even know you carried with you. At the door. Check it in. In here you have: you, your books and your unfinished thoughts, and your desk: and what are all these, but the luxuriant knowledge that in here you only have yourself to grapple with and answer to? In here your thoughts are your own, and about no one else. In here you can day dream, imagine spending lavishly on clean white desk tops; in here you can jot, and debate, and wonder, and calculate, and write.

In here you have only yourself, and what this room has inside of it is you.

Playful cities

Last week, my husband and I attended a panel discussion at UTS entitled “The Future of Creativity.” It was hosted by the UTS Business School and brought together Sydney Theatre artistic directors Andrew Upton and Cate Blanchett with Prof Roy Green from the UTS Business School and Lisa Colley, Director of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre. Patrick McIntyre, the Executive Director of Sydney Theatre Company, was the panel host.

The discussion was about business and creativity, and how the two intersect. Despite Lisa’s attempts to get people talking about real world examples, the conversation never really got past the basics – ie defining “business” and “creativity,” and emphasising the importance of allowing for risk taking and failure as part of the creative process.

In the car a couple of days ago, I listened to another panel discussionon Radio National, this time about “Knowledge Cities.” This conversation had been recorded in Melbourne, amongst a variety of experts in innovation and information access. The panellists made some interesting points, about the need for cities to allow for “playfulness” and maker spaces which supported collaboration as well as spaces which allowed for quiet introspection, and ultimately, cities which supported investment in ideas.

The two talks got me thinking. How does a city support an innovative economy? How do businesses make sure they allow for creativity? We have all heard of Google’s HQ and its play rooms and giant, coloured balls. But how about public infrastructure and councils? Governments and agencies? And small businesses looking to make it in the tertiary economy?

According to Abraham Maslow, the oft quoted psyhcologist who came up with “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” creativity in self-actualising people is the type ofcreativeness you see in people who tend to anything in their lives “creatively.” An essential aspect of this type of creativeness is what psychoanalyst Carl Rogers called an “openness to experience,” and which Maslow describes as being able to see the “fresh, the raw, the concrete, the idiographic, as well as the generic, the abstract, the rubricised, the categorised and the classified (Maslow 1968: 137).” As a result, they live “far more in the real world of nature than in the verbalised world of concepts…and stereotypes that most people confuse with the real world.”

In other words, they live authentically. They see reality and they not only embrace it; the milk it for all it is worth.

Maslow alos observed that “self-actualising” creativeness was very similar to the creativeness of happy and secure children. Self-actualising creativeness tended to be spontaneous, effortless, innocent, and free of cliches.

People with this type of creativeness tended to be relatively unfrightened by the unknown, and may be attracted by it eg to puzzle over something. Their quest for truth however is not a dire stretching for certainty as it may be for the neurotic. They can live with the unknown, even enjoy it. They are also relatively unaffected by worrying about what other people think of them.

These self-actualising creative people also can’t be characterised as either/or. For example, they are both selfish and unselfish – these two are not incompatible but exist in a “sensible, dynamic unity” as in Fromm’s “healthy selfishness.” (Maslow 1968: 139). Similarly, these people also showed other unities, eg between cognition and conation, as instinct and reason come to the same conclusions – “Duty became pleasure…the distinction between work and play became shadowy.” (Maslow 1968: 140). These people also have the strongest egos yet are also most able to be ego-less, echoing the Dalai Lama’s exhortation to Westerners not to confuse understanding the emptiness of the self with negation of the self (Dalai Lama 2000).

There are innumerable, interdisciplinary tracts describing and defining creativity – if you are interested, take a look at Teresa Amabile’s work as a good starting point. I merely wanted to talk about Maslow’s because I like how it reminds us that creativeness in one’s everyday life can be connected to our wellbeing and ability to live authentic lives. Also, Maslow talks about the need to balance and integrate creativeness.

As a normal person “adjusts” to the “real world,” she may find herself pushing away those parts of herself which tend towards play, silliness, and creativeness. These parts of herself are now dangerous as she tries to adjust to a world which demands a “purposeful and pragmatic striving” rather than play and revery (Maslow 1968: 142).

Maslow reminds us that we need these parts of us to be creative. So how can cities and government agencies support this when a large part of what these authorities currently do is encourage conformity with the mainstream in the interests of public regulation?

Hmm. This is a dilemma. Playful cities could perhaps be encouraged through Council plans for “playfulness,” which does elicit a grimace but how else can a government agency do it except to plan? How does a city plan for playfulness, and encourage non-conformity, within the bounds of social acceptability?

Times of the year and spaces within the city could be marked off as period or places for playfulness – maker spaces, low-level acceptance of artistic graff and street art, as examples. Some areas could specifically be cultivated as creative clusters, which lots of cities have jumped on because it is something they can plan for. But how else can you encourage a playful attitude amongst your citizenry?

There is a role of public leaders encouraging play by being playful themselves. By being honest about their own imaginations and urges. By being visionary and daring in their language and then in their actions. There is a level of small funding or simply a willingness to not enforce planning requirements which agencies could give to disruptive arts, eg street poetry, flash mob collectives, guerilla performers.

Most importantly, it is about getting creativity – people behaving creatively and the outputs of their creativity – out into public spaces in spontaenous or at least apparently spontaneous ways. Things have to be a little less controlled. Cities have to open their arms and be seen to be opening their arms to a little bit of chaos. Just a little bit. In the open and not just in the galleries and regulated spaces.

A city needs to breathe an air of creativity; it needs to make it part of the mainstream identity, so people in the middle, who would be more creative if they thought it was OK, can feel comfortable with their own minds saying “What if?”

There are always going to be outliers who will be creative no matter what – we don’t need to worry about them so much. It is the vast middle ground of people who would live a little more fully and have ideas to offer their employers and their cities and themselves, but do not because it is just not part of their days, and it is not anywhere to be seen on their street on the way to work, so why would they think of it?

I am afraid I have offered no hard solutions. Only a call to action. Let’s play!

Maslow, Abraham, Toward a Psychology of Being, 2nd ed, Van Nostrand, New York, 1968.
Dalai Lama, Transforming the Mind, Thorsons, London, 2000.

Write until you drop

I am thinking about writing. I am thinking about what I can write, and how I can make that more a part of my future.

I am thinking about honesty.

Whenever I start a new writing project, I get a sudden rush of other, excellent ideas for other, excellent projects.

It’s like Jesus encountering the devil in the desert, or Buddha facing the three spirits of temptation under the bodhi tree. These tempters look just like the real thing. So close, you can smell it – the faint, sweet smell of happiness.

Happiness is just one of the core evolutionary emotions, and it doesn’t even last that long.

Satisfaction, completion. To start and to finish. To speak and to write. These are my structures. These are the things that will take me the days and hours when I am not busily facilitating bubba’s life. Life is too short to spend in determined silence.

Keep. Going. Go.